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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Wadie Said, proxy warrior

The candidacy of Wadie Said, son of the late Edward Said, for a professorship is being challenged by a pro-Israel group. (There is an online petition of support for Said.) The post is at Wayne State University Law School, whose administration is figuring out very quickly that to accept Said is to enter the Israel-Palestine war by proxy.

In college I wrote about his father's similar controversies (his portrayal of his childhood in Palestine, and his stone-throwing at an Israel-Lebanon boundary--Alice edited the latter); Edward Said was a favorite lightning rod for this nonsensical shadow war, which is waged in American universities with a level of rhetoric that discredits both sides.

What is most ridiculous about the effort to prevent Said's hiring is that his ostensible sin is not even one that is generally offensive--as were Edward Said's supposed sins of lying and symbolic violence. The main group opposing him hardly accuses him of anything besides having Edward Said for a father, and being guilty of the same sin--having unpopular political opinions.

For instance, Said believes, as I do and as do many Israelis and almost the entire world, that Palestinian refugees are entitled to some form of right of return. From the press release of Stand With Us, the most prominent organizer of the effort against Said:
Supportive of his father’s legacy of “post-colonial,” “Orientalist” slander against Israel, Said advocates extremist Palestinian positions that threaten Israel’s existence. He ardently calls for the Palestinians’ “right of return.” The purpose of the “right of return” is to destroy Israel demographically.
Quite a few Israelis believe that, with so few original inhabitants alive and so many documents destroyed already, a process of return could be handled slowly, fairly, and without creating an Arab majority, but nevermind.

The press release continues:
More alarming is Said’s equivocation about “armed resistance,” which many refer to as terrorism. Pressed to clarify his views during the student interview, Said claimed that “certain types of activities, certain types of actions—armed actions—are not murder and they are not terrorism.”
Well, yes--the concept he is describing is "war". And so on.

The final sentence of the press release reads "If we minimize or ignore this issue, we will be aiding the propaganda war against Israel." This is a strange thing to consider when weighing academic merit. But in the Israel-Palestine intellectual proxy war, any accusation will do.

In An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, David Hume wrote (insightfully and condescendingly):
Disputes with men, pertinaciously obstinate in their principles, are, of all others, the most irksome; except, perhaps, those with persons, entirely disingenuous, who really do not believe the opinions they defend... The same blind adherence to their own arguments is to be expected in both; the same contempt of their antagonists; and the same passionate vehemence, in inforcing sophistry and falsehood. And as reasoning is not the source, whence either disputant derives his tenets; it is in vain to expect, that any logic, which speaks not to the affections, will ever engage him to embrace sounder principles.
I don't doubt that nationalists like those at Stand With Us are sincere in their beliefs, but some views--for example, that Israel refused to allow Palestinians to return to their homes out of self-defense rather than uncaring, or equally, that suicide bombing would vanish overnight if the West Bank settlements were evacuated and the right of return respected--simply boggle the mind. In cases like these, Hume is right that “reasoning is not the source” of the arguments; no amount of facts could sway the disputants. This is not, after all, a discussion, but a war.

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